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Staying Attuned to New Financial Services Opportunities

The degree of an organization’s success can often be traced to the effectiveness of its marketing planning process. Effective planning enables an organization to anticipate trends that will impact the business and make decisions based on an understanding of future circumstances, rather than those of the past or present. Wayne Gretzky understood this well. When asked why he was such a great hockey player, Gretzky said, “I don’t go where the puck is, I go where it is going to be.” In our era of “hyper change,” marketplace needs and wants shift at warp speed and the winning organizations will be those who embrace change and pursue the opportunities it offers.

Looking to the Future

Alvin Toffler was one of the first to understand that success lies in anticipating trends, rather than following them. His groundbreaking 1970 work, Future Shock—succeeded by The Third Wave (1980) and Power Shift (1990)—spawned a generation of “futurologists” who presented intriguing ideas about future trends and how to deal with them. Another noteworthy futurologist, John Naisbitt, gained comparable recognition with his book Megatrends (1982) which identified ten critical trends that would distinguish the burgeoning information society from the prior industrial one. Contemporary futurologists continue to refine and promote their theories. Recent noteworthy publications include: Being Digital (1995) in which Nicholas Negroponte explores the future of communications; The Art of the Long View (1991) in which Peter Schwartz demonstrates how scenario planning can help us discover the shape of unfolding future reality; and The Tipping Point (2000) in which Malcolm Gladwell shows how trends break into the mainstream.

These and other futurologists have demonstrated that trend analysis is both an art and a science. They have established the value of dismantling a trend to explore its implications, importance and applications. These concepts have important implications for the corporate planning process.

Leveraging Emerging Trends

Since the influence of an emerging trend grows as it gathers momentum, the greatest opportunities for competitive advantage occur when a trend is still in its nascent stage. Therefore, futurologists carefully monitor many areas—e.g., economic, geopolitical, technological, business, workplace, consumer, investor and societal—for early indications of emerging trends and their attendant opportunities. Such vigilance and insight can produce ample rewards for those who are able to identify and capitalize on important emerging trends. For example, consider the visionaries who first recognized the implications of the innovations that helped define life in the twenty-first century. At the beginning of this new millennium, the government named the following as the ten most influential inventions and discoveries of modern times:

  • 1. Electricity
  • 2. Microprocessor
  • 3. Computer
  • 4. DNA
  • 5. Telephone
  • 6. Automobile
  • 7. Internet
  • 8. TV
  • 9. Refrigeration
  • 10. Airplane

A careful examination of this list reveals that megatrends—e.g. the age wave, the information revolution, global warming, etc.—do not provide the best opportunities for practical business applications. Instead, smaller scale trends generally offer more frequent opportunities for the development of breakthrough corporate strategic initiatives.

The challenge in looking for viable small scale trends is to steer clear of fads. Webster defines a fad as “a practice or interest that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period of time.” Fads are short term trends that are almost impossible to predict because they generally have no underlying logic. Hula hoops, many dot coms, chia pets, assorted financial products and pet rocks are recent examples. The only way to successfully participate in a fad is to follow the accounting principle of FIFO—i.e., Get in early, get out early and don’t get stuck.

The Bottom Line

The current dynamic financial services market environment provides organizations of all sizes plentiful opportunities to capitalize on emerging trends. To take advantage of these opportunities, however, an organization must have

  • a process that enables it to stay attuned to the marketplace in order to identify emerging trends
  • a refined marketing planning process that enables the organization to understand the business implications of these trends and determine how to properly leverage the opportunities that will best serve both their corporate objectives and their target markets
  • the leadership, discipline and courage to recognize the opportunities afforded by relevant trends and the ability to change priorities accordingly.

Dynamic change constantly occurs in the financial services industry. As a result, financial services organizations continually confront opportunities to be early participants in new trends. Organizations need to stay attuned to the marketplace in order to identify and reap the benefits of appropriate opportunities.